A tentative list of general LDS biases in approaches to the Bible

A tentative list of general LDS biases in approaches to the Bible March 9, 2007

Scholars have a tendency to operate on shorthand and stereotype whenever they feel like they can get away with it. It is a somewhat ironic tendency, in that they general also insist on a more detailed and topic-specific discussion if it is something that they care about.  Of such are life’s paradoxes, no?  (That one’s for you, Frank)

In this, I don’t believe that scholars are being hypocritical; they just have to do a lot of thinking for a living and shorthand and habit quickly become important in any profession as they are necessary to get things done in a timely fashion.

Now, one of the ways that sholars operate on stereotypes is that they pay attention to a given scholar’s background.  If a scholar knows the school another scholar studied at, who they studied with, and, sometimes, they religious background and leaning of a given scholar, they can get some idea about what that scholar is going to say before they say it (in this, it also helps to be familiar with the scholar’s work 😉 ).  For instance, it is arguably rare for Evangelical scholars to take seriously the notion of an embodied god in some books of the Hebrew Bible.  Similarly, Evangelical scholars presumably will prefer readings that let the text stand as it is received and that, generally, promote the Evangelical view of things.  This is by no means always the case and I wouldn’t name it apologetics or anything like it.  Rather I would say that their religious outlook holds some sway over the problems they try to solve and may influence which reasonable solution of many that they prefer.   Other scholars know this and, for instance, understand that when they read a work of scholarship by noted Evangelical Egyptologist and Biblicist Kenneth Kitchen, it will most likely support the Bible as written and not argue against it.

Of course, there are problems with this: it can blind us to something new in Kitchen’s writings because we always expect more of the same old; it can lead us to ignore the important contributions of a student, because we expect the student to mimic the ideas of a given important teacher; and it can lead us to assume interpretations of the text that are not intended because they are what we think such a person would have said.  Nonetheless, stereotyping arguments, as the argument goes, stereotypically goes well.

So, assuming that Mormon Scholars are beginning to be able to address the greater world of Biblical and Religious studies at large, what assumptions should they insert into their shorthand for us?  What biases do we generally exhibit and strongly should they be read into our scholarship?  I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I believe that it would be useful to develop some.  Therefore, I am offering a tentative list of 10 “LDS biases” that one might usually expect to find in LDS Biblical and Religious Scholarship.  In so doing, I expect you all to critique the list, add to it, subtract from it, and argue about it.

I would think that at least the following 10 biases would be present in LDS Scholarship, to a greater or lesser degree:

  1. There would be a tendency to downplay the improbability of miracles and predictive prophecy.
  2. There would be a tendency to argue for a broader definition of prophetic action, one that would include the acts of Abraham and Moses, for example.
  3. There would be a tendency to allow for a heavy-handed editor of the text.
  4. There would be a tendency to prefer the historicity of historical figures (especially those involved in important covenantal relationships), but not a concurrent insistence on the historicity of historical events.
  5. There would be a tendency to assume the development of early widespread literacy in Israel
  6. There would be a tendency to prefer an earlier development of some aspects of second-temple judaism (apocalypse, a devil, synagogues, and so forth)
  7. There would be a tendency to view prophets as having a greater influence on the populace at large than is currently assumed
  8. There would be a tendency to assume that prophets had a greater influence in the religious bureaucracy than is currently assumed
  9. There would be a tendency to prefer earlier “final” renditions of the texts
  10. There would be a tendency to accept the incompleteness of the received text.

So, there you go.   What do you think?

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